The New Face of Trumps Legal Team Is the Christian Rights Pit Bull

Jay Sekulow has had a lively debut as a member of President Donald Trump’s personal legal team.

On June 11, the Washington attorney and conservative television figure went on ABC’s “This Week” talk show and refused to rule out the possibility that the president would fire the special counsel overseeing the criminal probe of the Trump campaign and Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. A week later, Sekulow appeared on four Sunday shows, vociferously denying that the president is himself under investigation—a direct contradiction of his boss’s June 16 post on Twitter, in which Trump said, “I am being investigated.”

“Oh, boy, this is weird,” said Chris Wallace, host of “Fox News Sunday,” as he tried to follow Sekulow’s verbal back-flips. 

What may be even more weird is that Sekulow is on Trump’s legal team at all. The 61-year-old lawyer has an unusual professional and personal profile—one that doesn’t include experience with white-collar criminal cases, which would seem to be what Trump needs at the moment.

Sekulow formerly served as the general counsel for the organization Jews for Jesus. In the late 1980s, he became the leading U.S. Supreme Court advocate for the Christian right. While appearing regularly on Fox television as a legal analyst and hosting a syndicated radio show, he also runs interlocking Christian nonprofits that raise tens of millions of dollars a year and employ several members of his family.

Asked about Sekulow’s qualifications, Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Trump’s outside legal team, didn’t directly answer the question. “Jay is a member of the president’s legal team in the fullest sense of the word,” Corallo said. “He is also authorized to speak on television or otherwise.” Corallo said he didn’t know how Trump came to hire Sekulow. The spokesman didn't respond to questions about the Sekulow nonprofits.   

Marc Kasowitz
Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg

Trump’s defense team continues to be led by Marc Kasowitz, a New York attorney who has a long history of representing the president in business and personal disputes, but not criminal (let alone high-stakes Washington) matters. Another member of the group is John Dowd, who possesses the Washington white-collar chops that Kasowitz and Sekulow lack. Dowd represented Senator John McCain in the early-’90s “Keating Five” scandal in which the Arizona Republican was eventually exonerated of charges that he met with bank regulators at the behest of a contributor. 

In a 2005 essay entitled, “How a Jewish Lawyer from Brooklyn Came to Believe in Jesus,” Sekulow recounted seeking his father’s permission to attend a Baptist college in Atlanta. “Baptist-shamptist,” the elder Sekulow responded by way of giving his blessing. Raised as a Reform Jew, Sekulow describes himself as still loyal to his family’s faith when he arrived at Atlanta Baptist College (now Mercer University). But intensive Bible study changed his mind. “As I read, my suspicion that Jesus might really be the Messiah was confirmed,” he wrote.

After college, he attended Mercer Law School, graduating in 1980 and becoming a tax lawyer in Atlanta. In the mid-1980s, after initial success specializing in real estate tax shelters for wealthy investors, Sekulow became enmeshed in disputes related to one of his redevelopment projects, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  He ended up millions of dollars in debt and filed for bankruptcy protection.

Showing extraordinary resilience, Sekulow switched the focus of his law practice and in 1986 became the general counsel of Jews for Jesus. The following year, he argued his first case before the U.S. Supreme Court, winning a unanimous free-speech decision allowing members of his organization to distribute religious literature at Los Angeles International Airport. “I almost feel like God raised me back from the dead,” he told the Journal-Constitution in 1991. “It was a spiritual rebirth.”

Over roughly two decades, Sekulow argued a dozen high court cases, winning victories for Christian students seeking to form a school Bible club and anti-abortion activists wanting to protest aggressively at women’s health clinics. In lower-court engagements, he defended the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue and its leader, Randall Terry.

Over time, Sekulow shifted his legal operation from Jews for Jesus to a pair of closely linked nonprofits he controls. The one that received the most publicity was the American Center for Law and Justice, or ACLJ, a group originally founded in 1990 by conservative Christian media mogul Pat Robertson. Robertson intended ACLJ to be a counterweight to the similarly named ACLU, or American Civil Liberties Union. 

Sekulow serves as chief counsel and chief executive officer of ACLJ, which received contributions and grants of more than $19 million in 2015, the most recent year for which IRS nonprofit filings are available. Based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, ACLJ lists Sekulow’s brother, Gary, as chief financial officer and chief operating officer. Adam Sekulow, Gary’s son (and Jay’s nephew), is listed as director of major donors.

ACLJ’s IRS filing indicates that Jay Sekulow received no salary in 2015. But the organization transferred more than $5 million to a Washington law firm of which he’s a 50 percent owner. The firm is called Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group. ACLJ spokesman Gene Kapp referred all questions for Jay and Gary Sekulow to the Trump legal team spokesman, Corallo. 

Jay Sekulow also serves as president of a second nonprofit, Tucker, Georgia-based Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, or CASE, which raised more than $52 million in 2015, according to its IRS filing. CASE says it is “doing business as” ACLJ. Four Sekulow relatives, including Jay’s wife, Pam, and his brother, Gary, are listed as serving on CASE’s board of directors. Gary’s compensation from CASE and related organizations is listed as more than $630,000. CASE’s filing says that in 2015 it transferred nearly $16 million to ACLJ and made payments totaling almost $1.2 million to businesses owned by Jay Sekulow.

On Monday, Sekulow was taking a victory lap on the Christian Broadcasting Network, reasserting that Trump isn’t under investigation and complaining about having to respond to media reports based on unnamed sources. “It’s like trying to swat at Jell-O,” he said. “This is what you deal with in Washington.”   

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    Stephen Colbert slams Senate Republicans for dodging debate on healthcare

    Despite a looming July 4 deadline, the Senate has not spent any time debating Republicans’ health care bill in the open and want to limit debate to just 20 hours. To make us feel even worse about this, Stephen Colbert pointed out what The Senate has debated this year: outer space settlements and pool and hot tub safety, for example.

    To be fair, if millions of people lose access to healthcare, it’s probably best to keep all hot tubs as slip-proof as possible.

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    Ted Cruz got seriously shut down after trying to get into a Twitter group hug

    We could all use a hug sometimes, but nobody wants a hug from Sen. Ted Cruz.

    Actress Alyssa Milano is known to get pretty political on Twitter, so it’s surprising that Ted Cruz walked himself into this embarrassing situation, but then again, it’s Ted Cruz.

    Milano sent her 3.14 million followers a digital group hug on Tuesday, asking all to get in on the action. But when Cruz tried to get in on the action, things got weird.

    “We all need a hug!” Cruz tweeted to Milano on Thursday along with a super creepy winky face emoji, usually reserved for, you know, sex stuff.

    Sorry, Cruz, nobody wants to show you affection. Not even your blood relatives.

    While we’re sure Cruz does in fact need a hug after his embarrassing run for President, Milano officially uninvited Cruz from the group hug.

    Milano later followed up her dismissal with a suggestion for a more appropriate interaction for an active member of the US Senate.

    Naturally, Twitter was pretty pumped about the shut down.

    Remember: Ted Cruz is real bad at hugs. Remember that time he dropped out of the presidential race and swiftly elbowed his wife in the face?

    Maybe just stick to holding hands, Teddy.

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    America Is Now a Second Tier Country

    America leads the world when it comes to access to higher education. But when it comes to health, environmental protection, and fighting discrimination, it trails many other developed countries, according to the Social Progress Imperative, a U.S.-based nonprofit.

    The results of the group’s annual survey, which ranks nations based on 50 metrics, call to mind other reviews of national well-being, such as the World Happiness Report released in March, which was led by Norway, Denmark, and Iceland, or September’s study on sustainable development. In that one, Iceland, Singapore, Sweden, and the U.S. took spots 1, 2, 3, and 28—respectively. 

    The Social Progress Index released this week is compiled from social and environmental data that come as close as possible to revealing how people live. “We want to measure a country’s health and wellness achieved, not how much effort is expended, nor how much the country spends on healthcare,” the report states. Scandinavia walked away with the top four of 128 slots. Denmark scored the highest. America came in at 18. 

    The U.S. may be underperforming, but so is the rest of the world. American progress, like that of other rich nations, has stalled for four years running. Based on overall world GDP, humanity as a whole could be doing a much more efficient job taking care of itself. Tough graders, these social-progress folks.

    Of course it’s easy enough to dismiss or belittle these occasional reports, each with their unique methodologies and almost identical conclusions. Another approach, however, would be to look at them all together and conclude that they represent “mounting evidence.” In that case, Houston (and Dallas, New Orleans, Tulsa, St. Louis, Baltimore, Chicago, and New York), we have a problem.

    SPI produces the report in part to help city, state, and national policymakers diagnose and (ideally) address their most pressing challenges. The group’s chief executive, Michael Green, said America “is failing to address basic human needs, equip citizens to improve their quality of life, protect the environment, and provide opportunity for everyone to make personal choices and reach their full potential.” 

    As a result, the U.S. is ranked as a second-tier nation within the multilevel structure of the  report, which comes complete with interactive graphics. Second-tier countries demonstrate “high social progress” on core issues, such as nutrition, water, and sanitation. However, they lag the first-tier, “very high social progress” nations when it comes to social unity and civic issues. That more or less reflects the U.S. performance. (There are six tiers in the study.)

    Its lowest marks come in the categories of “tolerance and inclusion” and “health and wellness.”

    Since 2014, as discrimination in America rises based on race, religion, sexual identity, and national origin, U.S. scores in the “tolerance and inclusion” category fell, according to the study. 

    The authors note that wealth is no guarantee to first-tier access. Even among nations with similar GDP, “countries achieve widely divergent levels of social progress.” It’s true a little bit of economic growth goes a long way toward improving lives, but those gains taper off at more mature stages of development.

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      Michelle Obama’s Instagram post inspires us to get fit with our friends

      Michelle Obama inspires us all to stay healthy once again.
      Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

      Shoutout to former First Lady Michelle Obama for continuing to inspire us to keep up with our #HealthGoals.

      On Monday, Obama shared on Instagram that she frequently hosted workout bootcamps with her friends while she was in the White House. Even though she’s no longer living on Pennsylvania Avenue, she decided to continue the tradition.

      “Our bootcamp weekends were a reminder that if we want to keep taking care of others, we need to take care of ourselves first,” she wrote in the post.

      The real Squad Goal is finding friends who will wipe your tears away when that bootcamp becomes too real.

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      What fathers do

      Some fathers do these things.

      Some fathers go to the Columbus Public Library used book sale in about 1980 and buy five big boxes of books on every topic. They place those books in a playroom and they result in a consistently relevant personal library for his kids. Every year they learn something new out of that room.

      Some fathers take their sons and daughters to Computer Express, a small computer shop, after taking you to Radio Shack and Sun TV and deciding the prices there are too high. Some fathers help you decide on an Atari 800XL with tape drive and they buy you River Raid to go with it.

      Some fathers buy you a modem and let you call BBSes all night.

      They take you to Boy Scouts and help you win the local Pinewood Derby. They drive you to Bell Labs where you learn UNIX and shell scripting.

      Some fathers sit with you and type in programs out of the back of ANTIC Magazine.

      They convince the family it wants a dog and picks a special breed, a Kerry Blue Terrier, because it doesnt shed.

      They get drunk at the Sheraton hotel bar happy hour and fall out of the car and turn you off alcohol until late in college. Thats when you really find you have a taste for it.

      Some fathers help you with your science fair projects and explore wind power with you by making balsa wood models of various generators.

      Some fathers give you phone wire, broken stereos, and a soldering iron and tell you to experiment. You do. Some fathers have a garage full of tools and show you how to cut wood and fix brakes and listen to NPR on a broken radio.

      Some fathers buy you a Packard Bell 286 and help you learn programming.

      Some fathers leave a basket of vinyl in the basement and in it you find Dylan, the Stones, and Janis Joplin, thereby making you the least pop-culturally-aware high schooler in Columbus.

      Some fathers work for 40 years at the same boring job to pay for a house and food.

      Some fathers take you to Europe and show you the magic of travel. They buy you Mad Magazine in German.

      They take you to Mad Magazines offices in Manhattan where you meet Dick DiBartolo, Nick Meglin, and Bill Gaines. That could inspire you to be a writer.

      They marvel at your new novel, The Tale of the White Worm, you write when youre twelve. They edit your school essays and, one night, they write an entire research paper about The Crucible for you because youre sick.

      Some fathers drive you from college to college looking for the right one. Then some fathers come drive you back from the right college every summer because you dont have a car.

      Some fathers help you sell your car when you move to Poland for work.

      Some fathers come to your wedding in Warsaw.

      They Skype you almost every day, leaving cryptic messages and posting links from Craigslist. Some fathers listen to Rush Limbaugh all day because hes a pleasant distraction.

      Some fathers drive twelve hours to visit you in Brooklyn.

      Some fathers get grumpy.

      Some fathers still make you laugh.

      Some fathers get lung cancer.

      Some fathers make you scared.

      Their failing health encourages you to run again and quit drinking because watching a man who looks so much like you get sick is frightening. But it also encourages you to reconnect with him.

      I know: Some fathers beat you. Some fathers leave you. Some fathers die early. Some fathers are cruel. Some fathers die inside.

      But some of us get lucky.

      Some fathers are great. Some fathers are kind. Some fathers educate, expand, and elucidate. Some fathers give all.

      Some of us get lucky.

      Happy Fathers Day.

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      The gift that keeps on giving: Give dad the subscription box of his dreams

      Just to let you know, if you buy something featured here, Mashable might earn an affiliate commission.

      So its the Friday before Fathers Day and youre currently gift-less.

      Dont freak out.

      Drop the gift idea and go for a subscription box. From geeky boxes to monthly bagel subscriptions, this list is sure to have something your dad will love.

      See, youre not lazy. Youre showing dad how much you love him every single month.

      Nothing better than a NY bagel

      Image: Bagel of the Month Club

      This ones for the dad who cant live without the taste of a real New York bagel. From plain, poppy, cinnamon raisin, and more, half a dozen of these bagels are the perfect gift. Get it here for $24.95 per month.

      Satisfy the workout fiend

      Image: Strength Crate

      Its the perfect gift for your athletic dad. Collect an assortment of fitness equipment, supplements, and apparel to motivate his training. Get it here for $59.95 a month.

      Cheers to beers

      Image: craft beer club

      The never-ending gift of beer sounds pretty sweet for dad. Twelve exceptionally crafted beers per month, with four different styles. Get it here for $42 per shipment.

      Lead a gentleman lifestyle

      Image: Gentleman’s Box

      Help dad transform from a regular dad to an established gentleman. From pocket squares to patterned socks, this savvy box has it all. Get it here for $25 per month.

      For all the meat eaters out there

      Image: carnivore club

      Give your dad the gift of cured meats delivered straight to his door courtesy of Carnivore Club. Artisan meats like chorizo, jerky, and charcuterie arrive monthly in a faux-wood box. Get it here for $50 a month.

      Foreeeeee the golfer dad

      Image: Swinger Box

      Is dad always on the course? Get him a Swinger subscription that comes with premium apparel, golf balls of your choice, glove, tees, and more. Get it here for $25 a month.

      If your dad is a geek

      Image: my geek box

      Handpicked by geeks, made for geeks. Give dad the gift of limited edition t-shirts and the ultimate nerd collectibles from My Geek Box. Get it here for $19.99 per month.

      A passion for pop culture

      Image: Loot Crate

      Let dad dive deep into the obsession of his choice with a Loot Crate subscription. Harry Potter and Stranger Things are just two of the choices. Get it here for $15.99 per month.

      Classy men drink wine

      Each month has one red and one white for the best dad out there. You cant go wrong with wine straight to your door. Get it here for $23.96 per month.

      Health-nut dad

      Image: GRAZE

      Choose your dads preference and get a handpicked box of snacks. Give him some new treats all year round with more than 100 healthy options. Get it here for $13.99 per box.

      Man grooming get an upgrade

      Image: birchbox

      Keep your professional dad covered. Hell receive four top-shelf grooming samples and a surprise gadget or accessory in each box to help him look his best. Get it here for $20 per month.

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      5 pieces of advice from dad you cant find on the internet

      Image: Gillette

      Lets give it up for the dads of the world. The guys who taught us so much we know about, well, everything. While we now live in a time where a simple internet search can quickly and accurately provide the answer to a burning question, theres a certain brand of wisdom that dads seem to have engrained in their DNA. Sure, you can always read an article about the best way to season a cast iron skillet, but seeing your old man do it first hand seals the lesson and helps you remember long enough to show your kids.

      Because another Fathers Day is upon us, werejoining up with Gillette to honorthe dads of the world by ranking the universal life lessons they pass onto their kids and encouraging you to go ask dad today, and every day.

      5. Dont tell Mom

      While the internet is chock full of advice on the importance of being open and honest with both parents, you know in your heart there are occasions where Mom is better off not knowing the whole story. For example: When dad sees you slip your leftover asparagus to the dog, but turns a blind eye because he hates vegetables just as much as you. Keeping a teeny, tiny little secret between the two of you will form a bond stronger than most.

      4. Dress to impress, but make sure you know who youre impressing

      Dad is one of the biggest sources of knowledge out there, even if he doesnt technically know the correct answer. Until youre old enough to make your own style choices, dads going to be the one to look to when learning how to cuff jeans, tie a tie, or match your shoes to your belt. Hes also going to be the one to tell you when to dress well (Moms birthday dinner) and when its ok to look like a hobo (Sunday afternoon FTW). Theres a lot more to fashion than learning how to tie an impeccable Windsor knot.

      Image: pixabay

      3. Perfect the dad joke

      What do you call an elephant that doesn’t matter?

      An irrelephant.

      What’s brown and sticky?

      A stick.

      Jokes like these come standard in the dad package. Learning how to perfect the dad joke is a job akin to building a car it takes time, energy, and a ton of finessing. The dad joke doesnt offend, its just a well-crafted piece of art that makes the audience groan with amusement. Finding the perfect go-to dad joke may be a long journey, but when you get it, never let go. This will prove to be the most important tool in your arsenal when you become a dad and are tasked with the job of keeping your familys spirits up on a rainy day.

      2. Shave smarter, not harder

      When it comes down to it,you need to watch your dad shave in person in order to get a handle on it. You can watch video after video on the topic, but lets face it you need to see the process in real life before you put a blade to your skin.

      Image: Gillette

      Shaving is aspecialright of passagethats best learned from dad likehow to mowthe lawn or cookingthe perfectsteak. While there are a myriad of products out there designed to help you along the way, theres really only one rule you need to remember:Dont presstoohard.

      A good razor does all the work. Its normal not to feel the hairs being cut when youre using a quality razor. That,with properly lathering your face, will give you a shave thatll make you look like youre ready to tackle anything life throws at your smooth, smooth face.

      1. Be a good guy and treat people with respect

      The internet is a double-edged sword, except each edge to this sword is adorned with billions of opinionated daggers. For every piece of advice out there on how to be a good person, theres a conflicting opinion written in all caps. Watching dad be a good guy to your family (and others) will go down as the most important interactions youll ever have. Its those subtle little things thatll make the biggest difference i.e. treating a waiter with respect or showing patience in the face of an annoying neighbor kid.

      Because dads never get tired of dispensing life-saving advice, dont be afraid to use this Fathers Day toshow your pops how much he matters to you. Whether you want his advice onshavingorneed help removing a stubborn tree stump, dont forget to make dad know how much he means to you and follow Gillettes advice and Go Ask Dad.

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      Baby reacts to aunt’s EEG leads and the internet can’t handle the cuteness

      The internet fell in love with a confused little girl.

      Blogger Jordyn Smith uploaded some photos to Twitter of her niece reacting to her EEG leads, and of course, it was simply precious.

      Smith has epilepsy and her EEG (electroencephalogram) leads are used to monitor her brain activity.

      Image: Jordyn smith

      Babies, however, don’t understand what any of this means, so 9-month-old Amina was pretty confused when she saw her auntie.

      Image: jordyn smith

      Image: jordyn smith

      Image: jordyn smith

      At the time of this writing, Smith’s post has been retweeted over 70,000 times and has even become a meme.

      Smith retweeted some of her favorites.

      Many people were just shook with how adorable Smith’s niece is.

      Smith was delighted that so many people found humor in the photos.

      “I felt so embarrassed when I first had to wear the leads for three days and didn’t even want to leave my house,” Smith said in an email. “But I took those pictures of her and… just realized how easy you can make light of a crummy situation.”

      “Life sucks sometimes and that’s okay!”

      Smith has been blogging for a year-and-a-half but only recently went public about her medical struggles. She finds it rewarding that documenting her health journey has sparked other people to reach out about “their own battle with epilepsy.”

      Since the tweet about her niece went viral, Smith says that people have been sending her pictures of them wearing “EEG’s when they otherwise would’ve been self conscious.”

      Smith wearing EEG leads

      Image: jordyn smith

      Overall, Smith had this to say:

      “A lot of the time people just want you to ‘be positive,’ but what I blog about is about increasing positivity but also accepting that life sucks sometimes and that’s okay! And to just make the best out of it.”

      Jordyn with her niece, Amina

      Image: jordyn smith

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      The Housing Recovery Is Leaving Out Most of America

      For further evidence of the uneven recovery among U.S. housing markets, how’s this: In the 10 most expensive U.S. metropolitan areas, median home values have increased by 63 percent since 2000, after adjusting for inflation. In the 10 cheapest metros, median values rose by just 3.6 percent.

      That finding, and the others illustrated by the charts below, comes from the , an annual report published Friday by Harvard University’s Joint Center For Housing Studies. While home prices have increased sharply in expensive coastal cities, plenty of urban centers are lagging behind. Home prices in 3 out of 5 metropolitan areas remain below their pre-recession peak, and home prices in low-income neighborhoods are faring even worse.

      Meanwhile, the number of Americans spending 50 percent of their income on rent is near historic highs, something likely to get even worse if proposed budget cuts to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development eliminate rental assistance for hundreds of thousands. Demand for rental units continues to rise, pushing rents higher.

      The good news—such as it is—is that slow price appreciation in much of the country outside the hot metros means for-sale units there remain relatively affordable for more families. 

      Home prices increased in 97 out of the 100 largest metropolitan areas, according to the report. Nationally, nominal prices returned to the peaks they held before the Great Recession. But when you adjust for inflation, those prices are as much as 16 percent below past peaks. And appreciation hasn’t been evenly distributed: A May report from Trulia showed that nationally, just 1 in 3 homes has recovered peak value. The Harvard report, however, shows the price gains have been concentrated in high-income neighborhoods.   

      The flip side of low appreciation should be greater affordability for home buyers. Indeed, 59 percent of households in U.S. metros can afford to purchase the median home, the Harvard report stated, and in 1 in 5 metros, 75 percent can afford to buy. (In this case, the report defines affordability based on a 5 percent down-payment and monthly mortgage payments of no more than 36 percent of household income.) 

      But many local markets suffer from low inventory, the report notes, partly because of the sluggish pace of new construction: The U.S. added fewer housing units over the decade ending in 2016 than in any 10-year period since 1990.

      Joint Center for Housing Studies

      And while a significant number of Americans spend half of their income on rent, that figure did tick down a bit in 2015, to 11.1 million. That’s still 49 percent more severely rent-burdened households compared with 2001. The vast majority of those households earn less than $30,000 a year.

      Regardless of income, or whether they own or rent their homes, families that spend half their income on housing are forced to make sacrifices elsewhere in their budgets. When the poorest families pay less for housing, the extra money goes to necessities like health care. Among households that fall in the bottom 25 percent for total consumer spending, those that spent less than 30 percent of their income on housing spent three times as much on health care.

      Those hoping for relief in the form of new rental stock may be waiting for a while. After growing by leaps following the foreclosure crisis, the nation’s stock of single-family rentals actually fell in 2015, the last year for which the report offers data. Low-rent units, meanwhile, are being replaced by more expensive offerings, the report said. That is where the money is. 

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